וַיַצֶב־שָם מִזְבֵחַ וַיִקְרָא־לוֹ אֵ-ל אֱ-להֵי יִשְרָאֵֽל
There he erected an altar, and he named it “God is the God of Israel” (Bereishis 34:20)
Rashi cites Megillah 18a, translating this phrase differently: and the God of Israel called him [i.e. Jacob] אֵ-ל. There are halachic implications to the two translations. The scribe (sofer) who writes a sefer Torah must have the proper intention (kavannah) while writing God’s Name. Otherwise, the sefer Torah is invalid (pasul). According to Rashi אֵ-ל in this verse refers to God, so the sofer must have the appropriate kavannah while writing this word. However, according to the Gemara, the word ,אֵל referring to Jacob, has no Divine connotation in this context, and therefore does not require this kavannah. Furthermore, R. Chaim Soloveitchik suggests that if one has kavannah for writing God’s Name while writing a word that is not in fact God’s name, the sefer Torah is also invalid. According to halachah, we rule in accordance with Rashi’s interpretation of this phrase: while writing the word אֵ-ל in this verse, one must have kavannah for God’s Name.
Along the lines of the second translation, Bereishis Rabbah cites an enigmatic statement by Jacob directed to God: You are the God above, and I am the God below. One can explain this assertion through the imperative of vehalachta bidrachav, that man must imitate God’s attributes. Thus, You are the God above, because the angels can observe You and imitate your ways, while I am the God below – man observes me, and learns of God’s ways through my actions.
The Divine Presence is reflected in the biography of our great leaders. Just as Isaac was ready to offer himself as a sacrifice, we must learn how to engage in self-sacrifice. Just as Jacob tithed everything he earned (v. 28:22) so must we give charity. From Joseph we learn not to take revenge. From Moses we learn the attribute of patience, how he learned to see the good in the Children of Israel despite their repeated infractions in the desert. Jacob’s image was engraved on the heavenly throne (Bereishis Rabbah 66:12); Jacob is referred to as “אֵל” because the Divine throne is reflected in Jacob’s image. (Nefesh Harav, pp. 280-281)